Don’t be led astray.

The creatures who stumble across your path are not there by accident.

Strider strayed our way, only to welcome a stranger of his own. (His actual words to Chestnut: “If by my life or death I can protect you, I will. You have my sword.”)

It’s a topic of regular lunchtime conversation at Tabby’s Place: why do we delight in cats’ quirks with a mirth and mercy we’d never extend to humans?

If a cat comes bearing a backpack of bafflements, we fall over each other in delight. Are you missing an eye or a foot or a tail? “Too” feisty by half? A mottle of madcap colors? Prone to make shrieky alien sounds whilst scratching your inner ear?

It’s unanimous: you are cuter than an entire battalion of baby fennec foxes accompanied by Jimmy Fallons carrying slow lorises. You are ours. Can we be yours?

Freaky, funky humans (and there are no other kinds) find a cooler reception. Frankly, it’s harder to earn the accolade of “adorable” when you’re part of the species that invented the nuclear bomb and spray cheese.

Fortunately, the cats keep working on us.

(And if you get this reference, I think we just became best friends.)

There’s no shortage of homeless felines, and we’d never presume to pick and choose the strays worthy of our warmth. Tabby’s Place may take cats from many channels (three continents and counting), but we gamely accept the fact that each one who finds his way to us is Ours.

If you stray our way, you were meant to be our cat. Period. No evaluation, no consultation, no examination necessary. (Well, we will examine you rather ingloriously for ringworm and giardia and other parasitical delights, but you’ve already been admitted to our eminent institution; this is just part of freshman orientation.)

If a cat is sent — by Animal Control, by fortune’s wheel, by the gentle hand of the Architect — to Tabby’s Place, that cat is our cat. The very fact of the sentness, the is-ness, is the sole qualification for being cherished.

Strays come in all kinds of ways. Marcus was found by Animal Control. Hector sailed across the sea. Gator was the apex predator in Ringoes, NJ, literally trapped on Tabby’s Place’s own sidewalk. Strider was helping a bunch of hobbits destroy the One Ring when he got lost in a feral colony. There are as many maps home as there are cats.

Stray this way, any which way, and you’re our cat.

Your arrival, your appearance, your existence are all you need to be instantly embraced into the inner sanctum. If you’re here, you’re famiglia.

This is true, of course, even for those cats who would very, very, very strongly prefer not to join our personal famiglia. (Everest would like to show us where we can shove our eggplant parmigiana.) No matter. If you strayed into Piazza di Tabby, you’re our cat.

Maybe it’s a parable.

Maybe the cats keep coming because we keep needing remedial work on welcoming strangers.

Maybe we’re capable of stretching for less-adorable strays.

When Hurricane Ida had its way with New Jersey last week, stragglers of a furless sort came sloshing down Route 202.

By Evening Fish Mush Time, the roads around Tabby’s Place were impassable, and our night crew (who shall remain anonymous, except to say that their names are Lisa and Jess, and they are two of the most glorious good goldenhearted human beings who ever trod the earth) had made peace with their predicament: they would be spending the night at Tabby’s Place. (Actual quote from Angelo, who doubled as an actual pillow: “SWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!”)

As Jess and Lisa and Angelo and Marcus and Everest and Hector and all our homies settled in for the strange night, strays began streaming in. Soaked, shivering motorists abandoned their cars, spotted the toasty lights of Tabby’s Place, and sheepishly knocked on the door. What unfolded was a sacred event.

Tabby’s Place took in human strays.

Weary, wobbly wanderers found heat and light, soft clean scrubs to change into, a superabundance of Ritz Bits, and the kind of kindness that keeps the stars in orbit.

For a moment, a quiet truth sang to the surface:

Every stray that comes our way is ours to love.

If a creature crosses our path, they’re our cat/mollusk/human being.

The cats who appear are our cats.

Chestnut has entered the chat

The people who show up are our people.

The sentness is the qualification, full stop.

I pray we remember.

And when we’re the strays — as we all will be, over and again — I pray we’ll find instant famiglia, too.

Let’s welcome some strangers, kittens.

Pictured top to bottom: Everest, Chestnut, Strider & Chestnut, Strider, Hector, Gator, the Fellowship of the Adorable

PS: Strider’s swordplay comes from the mind of the same spectacular Jess, for whom we now shall offer another round of applause.

Loveliest and most richly deserved Google review in the history of Googlosity:

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